So that sleek aerodynamic form you see above belongs to the world famous T80. It was a Nazi Germany funded and Ferdinand Porsche designed land speed car that was built in the 1930’s, but was never ran due to the outbreak of World War II. By many accounts, it is the only race car in history that was backed by an entire tax base and designed with an absolute and literal blank check. There was no budget and there were no limits. Hitler demanded that Germany produce the world’s fastest car and would accept no excuses for failure. (More details on the T80 here.)
The T80 was kind of the culmination of Germany’s land speed efforts throughout the 1930’s. The German government backed both Mercedes and Auto Union on multiple attempts at the land speed record. Their best effort came on a public street. No shit… The W125 Benz Rekordwagen went 268 mph on the Autobahn in 1938 – a record that still stands to this day.
But still, it was the T80 that Germany put all of its marbles in and its performance remains to be one of the most oft-pondered questions in the world of automotive racing – Just how fast would have the T80 gone? Hitler was confident it would see speeds north of 370mph, but he was a moron and quite frequently blew smoke right out of his methamphetamine burned asshole. So, instead of that ridiculous number, let’s use reality as our benchmark. Let’s use 268mph as the top speed a fascist government was capable of in 1940.
Ok. Stop. And fast forward ten years or so to 1952. This, in my opinion, is when the absolute pinnacle of hot rodding was reached. This is the point where American hot rodding went from a novel past time to a perfect and global example of what unbridled innovation can accomplish. This is the point that made “Hot Rodding” what it is today.
From a lot of accounts, Bill Kenz was literally laughed at the first time he showed up at Bonneville in 1949. Look again at the T80 image posted above and now take a gander at Bill’s Odd Rod:
One was funded by a small Denver Colorado based speed shop and the other by an entire government… and well, it’s pretty damned obvious that’s the case. I mean, I’ve seen bricks with a sleeker profile than the Odd Rod. Of course, the Odd Rod hauled ass in 1949 (140 mph) and a lot of previously doubting hot rodders were convinced Bill was on to something. By 1951, Bill had refined the idea to this:
And what you see before you is the world famous Kenz & Leslie Streamliner that in 1952 got to within 12mph of breaking a record set by an entire damned government just a few years earlier. A few years later, it went north of 270mph – faster than any road going car Nazi Germany EVER built. Think about that for a moment from a pure accounting perspective.
How much could Kenz & Leslie have had invested in their car in 1950 terms? I’ve been unable to find anything concrete, but lets just say they spent $100,000 in 1950 money (I wouldn’t be surprised if the actual figure was a quarter of that). A full financial breakdown of the T80 is available. The German tax payers shelled out what was essentially $1,000,000 in 1950 US dollars for their race car. And that’s not to mention the other Auto Union cars they used as test beds or the other resources that come with being fascist thugs. For the Germans, the world was their oyster. For Kenz & Leslie? Well, I hear The Buckhorn Exchange served a pretty decent oyster back in the day…
Anyway, the reason I bring this up is one of perspective. To many in the world, American hot rodding is seen as this sort of back-rooted hillbilly operation where braun kind of dominated over brain. We got it done with cubic inches while others got it done with innovation, right?
In many ways, I think American hot rodding was just a second example of hillbillies outthinking Nazis.